SFSC: Letter concerning censorship by the administration of Burnaby South Secondary school

May 24, 2011
Mr. Larry Hayes, Chair Burnaby Board of Education
Dear Mr. Hayes:

We write on behalf of the Seriously Free Speech Committee (SFSC) concerning the case of censorship of a student essay by the administration of Burnaby South Secondary school.

This case was brought to public attention by the Burnaby Now newspaper with a front-page story on March 16 of this year. Simultaneously they provided an electronic posting of the student essay titled “Democracy and Freedom”, focusing on the Middle East, which was prepared for and submitted to the student school newspaper “South Source”. The school administration decided it would not be published.

The Burnaby Now newspaper then printed letters of comment in four subsequent issues of their newspaper (see attachment 1). In addition, the Burnaby Teachers Association met with the school superintendent and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association wrote to the school superintendent. In short, this has become a very public matter.

One of us (Mordecai Briemberg) met with Mr. Gordon Li, the principal of Burnaby South Secondary school to gain an understanding of the school administration’s reasons for censorship, and to propose a resolution of the problem. Regrettably the three different explanations provided by school administration became even more suspect, and the proposed resolution was not acted upon (see attachment 2, sent May 10, and to which no reply has been received). There does not appear to be any coherent statement of school board policy regarding the encouragement of independent thinking in student newspapers nor any open and transparent due process for decision-making regarding censoring material.

We are therefore bringing our concerns to the Burnaby Board of Education.
The SFSC is specifically concerned with the democratic right of freedom of expression on matters related to Middle East issues. In recent years this “hot button issue” has been the target of campaigns to silence, smear and censor expression of opinion, to close down the open discussion which is so essential to a democratic culture.

Beyond that we note that the Ministry of Education mandates that in the public school curriculum “students are encouraged to think critically, evaluate information, and practise effective communication.” This is precisely what the student at Burnaby South Secondary school took to heart, and precisely what the administration of his school chose to suppress. The decision appears to be based on a concern for political controversy and does not support the MoE mandate.

The student involved is to be congratulated for his courage and persistence and not subjected to arbitrary decisions.

We would be pleased to meet with you to discuss what can be a positive outcome of the existing impasse.

Sincerely,
Brian Campbell (co-chair of the Seriously Free Speech Committee)
Mordecai Briemberg (member of the Seriously Free Speech Committee and long-time Burnaby resident)

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